By Scott Christiansen
I joined Phil Isley for a sandwich at Arctic Roadrunner last weekend. Isley is an independent candidate for Assembly Seat E, the race in which Cheryl Frasca and Tim Steele are in a pitched battle. Frasca has the endorsement of Mayor Dan Sullivan. Steele has gathered support from labor unions.
It’s a big money campaign, in which a longshot candidate such as Isley will be lucky to get three percent of the vote.
Isley will spend “very little money” campaigning, he told me. He is disappointed to be left out of a recent Press print edition coverage of the race, but polite about it, which is one of the reasons I met with him.
Isley knows he is not likely to win. “I don’t have the support” was one of the first things he said during our conversation. He also believes the Press and pretty much every other forum in town, owes the candidates who take the time to put their name some coverage.
Here’s the thing. We don’t. One of many reasons to defend that position—and make our own decisions about what we publish—is specific to Anchorage. From time to time Anchorage will have a free-for-all election, usually a mayoral race that has a dozen candidates. Journalists here don’t just cover democrats, republicans, greens and libertarians. From time to time reports here cover schizophrenics, clowns and ambitiously misguided protesters. (You can’t stop a war from the mayor’s office.)
I should point out that Isley is no clown. A vote for him would be a protest vote and here is what you would get. He’s not affiliated with any political party. Isley, like many lifelong Alaskans, has worked a variety of careers. He’s been an airplane mechanic. He has managed heavy equipment leases and sales. He currently sells insurance. His longest career job was with Alaska National Guard. Isley graduated high school in Ketchikan, and in 1964 went straight to work in the Ketchikan Pulp Mill. He had joined the Alaska National Guard at the age of 17. Logging in the Tongass National Forest began to slowdown, and he watched the economy in Southeast slow right along with it. He eventually became a full time Alaska National Guard employee, and has since retired from that.
Isley believes Lousiana Pacific (one of several companies to own Ketchikan Pulp), conspired with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to have logging in the Tongass shut down. It’s a conspiracy theory I had never heard before. It also took a bit more explaining than we had time for over burgers, so Isley apologetically let it rest. (I’m fascinated by conspiracy theories, but we presumably came to Spenard’s favorite burger joint to talk about Anchorage, not Ketchikan.) I got the idea that Isley might be a man who listens to a bit too much talk radio, and in fact he told me he’s a fan of longtime conservative radio host Rick Rydell.
Isley says he has been watching the Anchorage Assembly for years, and pays close attention to their actions. “I am learning a lot and most of what I learn I don’t particularly care for,” he said. He isn’t sure how he would have voted on Ordinance 37 (the labor that passed Tuesday and weakened city employees’ unions) but he likely would’ve voted to pass it. “I am sure there are people that would do a lot of those jobs for less money,” he said.
He is also critical of a 2011 Assembly vote meant to protect bicyclists. It was a recent Assembly action I had not heard about, which made me confident the candidate really does pay attention to local politics. Anchorage once had a law that said a driver passing a rider on a bicycle need only give the cyclist “a safe distance” but the 2011 vote created a traffic law that says “a safe distance, not less than three feet” is the rule. This is progressive by Alaska standards and mirrors a statewide law in Oregon.
I told Isley the right-of-way is for everyone. He seemed to agree, at least in principle, but believes cyclists get, he said, “a freebie” while people in cars pay a gasoline tax. And he just doesn’t like what he see going on in traffic. “I wouldn’t have been so adamant (as the Assembly) in passing that law without asking, ‘How are we going to train-up the people on the bicycles?” he said.
Isley is considering joining a political party. If he does, he said, it would be either the republicans or libertarians. He has heard about the infighting at the GOP, but admitted he doesn’t know what to make of that. (Few Alaskans do.) He thinks the libertarians are a closer match to his personal values, but worries that on the national level they would harm the country’s security with an isolationist approach to global troubles.
Locally, Isley said he likes the community council system, but wishes more people would attend. He understands why some people get turned off by the neighborhood meetings. “They spend so much time on trees and fences—I could see the importance if you live right next to it, but sometimes it seems like they are just arguing,” he said.
Isley would take a laissez-faire approach to city planning, particularly when it comes to private property. He said he has never seen a government regulation that didn’t harm the economy in some way. The land use codes “look good on paper,” Isley said, but they are not as important as building better streets.
He has a distinct complete-the-grid mentality when it comes to street design. (Isley’s Utopia would have very few dead-end streets.) “People talk about more busses and public transportation, but the biggest thing we need is a road grid—when you have grid, you facilitate those busses,” he said.
Phil Isley will be on the Tuesday, April 2, ballot in the race for the West side Assembly seat E. Isley and all the West side candidates have been invited to a forum Thursday evening (the day this was posted) in a forum hosted by the West side community councils. The forum is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, March 28, 2013 at the Spenard Recreation Center, 2020 W. 48th Ave.